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Tribeca 2011: Jean-Pierre Améris Delights With “Romantics Anonymous”

Tribeca 2011: Jean-Pierre Améris Delights With “Romantics Anonymous” (photo)

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Even before the credits begin on “Romantics Anonymous,” Jean-Pierre Améris’ comedy wins its audience over with a simple interpretation of “I Have Confidence” from “The Sound of Music,” made even more adorable by the way it’s sung by Angélique Delange (Isabelle Carré) as she strolls down the street. It’s bold, which is something the film’s characters Angélique and her soon-to-be boss Jean-Rene (Benoît Poelvoorde) are not, but that’s the charm of Ameris’ love story where the barrier to romance isn’t just getting the other person to let down their guard, but to overcome their own social anxiety. Which is a shame since besides a shared lack of self-assurance, Angélique and Jean-Rene have a love of good chocolate that they’ll need to sell if they’re to save Jean-Rene’s confectionary from bankruptcy.

Fortunately, Ameris didn’t let his own confidence issues come in the way of making “Romantics Anonymous,” instead drawing inspiration from it to make his first comedy after a career making dramas that have largely dealt with the subject of fear. Here, it is Jean-Rene’s fear of sweating through his shirt and Angélique’s dread at drawing attention to herself as an exceptionally talented chocolatier that often lead to the film’s considerable laughs and naturally, it came as a relief to the French writer/director that the comedy was received as one of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s word-of-mouth sensations. While in New York, Ameris spoke through a translator about what the Stateside reception has meant to him as well as what went into making “Romantics Anonymous” and how it can sometimes be very lonely making a comedy.

How did this film come about?

It was actually a long process. About 10 years ago, I started going to these Emotions Anonymous meetings [that Angélique attends in the film] and it was a stage in my life where I started developing fears of a lot of things, of even leaving my apartment. I refused dinner invitations. I didn’t want to go to film festivals anymore. And so I found out about the existence of this group, Emotions Anonymous and I joined them.

When I started attending those meetings, I was really touched to find out that there are so many people affected by this and people that you never would guess have this problem. For example, you’d see an apparently successful businessman or some really pretty women who go there and share that any kind of date is an issue for them. Because of the way I am, everything becomes cinema in my life, so I thought there could be a good movie to come out of that — talking about people whose fear is so deep, and their biggest fear is being looked at by others.

RomanticsAnonymous_04302011.jpgYou’ve almost exclusively directed dramas in the past. How did you know the subject matter lent itself to a comedy?

When I first started writing, it was very clear to me that the subject itself was comedic. When you go to these groups where you share your experiences, at the moment you experienced it, it seemed like catastrophe, but then the simple fact of talking about it makes you realize how funny it can be and people end up laughing. That laughter has a relief component. It really makes you feel that it’s fine. I think actually it would been pleonastic to make a drama out of such suffering.

Was it difficult for you to make the transition from comedy to drama?

It’s actually very difficult, as I found out, to work with comedies — when you write, when you shoot, when you edit. It requires you to be a lot stricter with the way you work and you never know at the outset whether a scene will make people laugh. For example, when we worked with a scene where [Benoit Poelvoorde] comes back with a shirt with ruffles instead of the plain shirt [during a dinner date], my actor didn’t believe in it and the people that were around us when we shot weren’t laughing that much, so I actually experienced some moments of true solitude as I was doing that.

You never know whether something will be successful until you show it to people and that’s something a lot of comedians that are well-known have said, that you always need to wait until you have feedback from the audience. I believe that working with comedy requires a lot of trust and a lot of bravery and a lot of discipline as well. It is a true risk and actually, this goes hand in hand with the type of subject I was dealing with. It’s about taking risks because instead of being funny, you can be ridiculous. And that’s a great risk, which I find very interesting and beautiful at the same time.

romanticsanonymous2_04302011.jpg Angélique, played by Isabelle Carré, sings to herself to boost her courage. How did that idea come about?

This idea came from the actress herself. It’s my second movie with her and it’s somebody I totally trust. She has a lot of points in common with the character herself and with me. When I wrote the script, I wrote it for her and when we were talking about it, she shared with me this bit of information about herself, which is that whenever she has to tackle a difficult situation, she actually sings a song and sometimes they’re songs that are on TV or often it’s the song from “The Sound of Music.” And that’s what we chose to put in.

It’s also interesting that this film deals with characters reaching middle age, which is a point where one doesn’t necessarily meet new people and a certain comfort sets in. Was that an interesting starting point for you to make a romantic comedy?

I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but you actually have a very good point. Actually, I wanted to show characters that were closer to my age – that was the initial idea. And this condition is something that starts out when you’re young, you’re growing up, but it continues. It never really stops. I think it’s really painful when we reach age 40, let’s say, and we realize we’ve failed at our love life and at our jobs because we’re paralyzed by fear. So I wanted to show people that we’re halfway through our lives and I wanted to show that everything was still possible. It was still possible to find love, to find professional success. I really set out to show that positive outcomes were possible.

Has seeing the film connect with audiences in New York been gratifying?

It was a pleasure, of course, to find out that the subject I tackled is truly universal and I’m particularly happy about the success in the United States because the film is nourished by my love for American romantic comedies of the ’50s, so it’s a little bit like going back to the source.

“Romantics Anonymous” does not yet have U.S. distribution, but will play the Tribeca Film Festival on April 30th at 9:45 p.m.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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